Resident-on-Resident Violence in Nursing Homes Is Growing

The recent slaying of a Wilton, Connecticut, nursing home resident by his roommate has spotlighted a growing problem in facilities nationwide: resident-on-resident violence.

John Tamkun, 88, faces manslaughter charges in the death of Thomas Mullen, 82, who was bludgeoned to death with the footboard of a bed. Tamkun, a retired cabinetmaker, suffers from dementia. Both were residents of the Wilton Meadows Health Care Center.

While the concerns of nursing home administrators have mostly centered on residents harming staff members, or vice versa, resident-on-resident violence appears to be on the rise. Nationwide, state ombudsman programs received more than 3,700 complaints about such abuse in 2002, up from about 2,500 in 1997. In recent years, Pennsylvania, New York and Florida have reported cases of patients at nursing homes and assisted living facilities killed by fellow residents suffering from dementia.

One major reason for the increase is the greater numbers of nursing home patients suffering from Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia, which can cause aggressive behavior.

"They lose their sense of inhibition. They get agitated more easily and afraid," said Toni Fatone, executive vice president of the Connecticut Association of Healthcare Facilities. In addition, such patients can abuse others verbally, provoking a violent response.

Toby Edelman, attorney for the Center for Medicare Advocacy, said more staff and better training would allow providers to recognize the warning signs of dangerous situations.

For an Associated Press article in Newsday on the problem, click here.